Blackboard goes off the charts

Posted on 28 January 2015 by admin

Increased mobile usage crashes learning management system first week of classes

blackboard chartBy: SPENCER GLEASON
Editor in Chief

STLCC students and faculty were unable to log into the Blackboard learning management system on the first day of the spring semester, Tuesday, Jan. 20. Problems continued throughout the week and a letter explaining the Blackboard holdup was sent to faculty by week’s end.

“Much of the increased activity was due to a 425 percent jump in the use of the mobile devices to access Blackboard,” Robin Grebing, director of Online Education at STLCC, said in the letter to faculty.

“Last summer [2014], the college contracted with Blackboard to make the Blackboard mobile app available to students at no cost. While we expected significant increases in Blackboard activity, as more students engaged the system with their mobile devices, we did not predict the huge increases we experienced this week,” Grebing said.

On average, Blackboard typically hosts 400 concurrent users on Blackboard, according to Grebing. This traffic increases to 600 concurrent users within the first couple days of a semester. STLCC’s Blackboard infrastructure is built to withstand 1,000 concurrent users. The first two days of this spring semester show that 1,600 concurrent users were on STLCC’s Blackboard system.

“As the college adds more functionality such as Collaborate and Community, and as students depend more on their mobile devices to access Blackboard, it is apparent that the Blackboard infrastructure needs to be expanded to handle higher volume,” Grebing said. “Conversations about how to proceed with permanent solutions are already underway.”

STLCC-Meramec Vice President of Academic Affairs Andrew Langrehr said that login problems should have dissolved by the second week of classes.

“The problem should have subsided, by now,” Langrehr said “The equilibrium [has] shifted to some people are on, some people are not.”

Prior to classes starting for the semester, Meramec English instructor Michael Burke had difficulty logging into the instructional link for his composition classes. He wanted to add a few last minute details.

“Blackboard was hard to use Sunday night, before classes started — both Sunday night and Monday,” Burke said. “Tuesday, I couldn’t get into Blackboard. It would go in and out. It would be available for a few minutes. Then it would go away. It was really slow and you couldn’t get into it. And sometimes it would stop for no good reason.”

Burke’s classes are face-to-face classes, but he said he uses Blackboard for additional material in his classes. But, he said that his colleagues who teach online and hybrid classes had major issues.

“The fact that the college encourages us to do online instruction and to create hybrid and online classes. But then the support network for that is not as robust as it could be,” Burke said. “When it craps out unexpectedly, like this, it really, really puts people behind — especially if you have just a concentrated narrow window, like in hybrid.”

Donna Werner, who has taught at Meramec since 2002, is teaching two hybrid classes this semester.

“That’s frustrating. When you teach online, especially an eight-week class, students only have eight weeks. So, if you lose a week, it’s very hard,” Werner said. “You want students to be successful and it’s a very compressed class. It’s hard to get the work done anyway. It’s hard to get them started. And when they can’t get in the first week, it’s just crazy.”

Werner had to extend deadlines in order to compensate losing the first week of class.

“That’s how you deal with it. I extended the due dates because I knew that there were problems,” Werner said. “But it’s unacceptable. The bottom line is that it’s unacceptable. As an institution, we’re not doing our job, if the systems aren’t working.”

Second year Meramec student, Zach Sansone, was enrolled in an online public speaking class. But with the deadlock in Blackboard usage, Sansone opted to drop his public speaking class.

“I was going to do my first assignment. Blackboard was acting up. I [thought], ‘Well, if this is the way that it’s going to be, there’s no way I’m going to do this now,’” Sansone said. “So I switched classes. I’m not public speaking at all, now. I’m taking computer software and hardware concepts, which I need for my major.”

Sansone is majoring in computer science. He does need a public speaking class to graduate, but said he will take the necessary class at a later time.

“I can take public speaking anywhere,” Sansone said. “I’ll probably end up taking it over the summer. I’ll figure it out.”

Sansone’s friend, Brian Robinson also had issues logging into Blackboard.

“Teachers couldn’t even get on. It through a wrench in their plans,” Robinson said. “It just kind of put a bad taste in all of the student’s mouths. It was a real sluggish, disappointing start. They obviously, weren’t expecting the workload that comes with the start of a new semester.”

The Blackboard issues came as a surprise to administration, according to Langrehr.

“No one was asleep at the switch. They did a lot of planning,” Langrehr said. “It’s almost like no good deed goes unpunished. You’ve planned. You’ve made sure that we have increased capacity. You’ve talked with Blackboard. You’ve looked at all of the past starts of the semester and you know there’s going to be an increase. Everybody says ‘thumbs up.’ And then this is way beyond what anybody [expected].”


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